The fuss about Lance Armstrong’s “admissions” of guilt has started to die down, partly because the sports world has moved on to something more important: imaginary Twitter girlfriends (ooh, fun!). No doubt some sports PR folks are getting a workout.
When sports figures or other celebrities hit a rough patch (a colossal understatement when it comes to Armstrong, but let’s just call it that), and their names are associated with mission-driven organizations, there’s high potential for collateral damage—duck and cover everyone! Lance was clearly a master compartmentalizer. But the American public? Not so much.
I became a Lance fan when I saw him ride from Dax to Hautecamp in the summer of 2000. This was one of the days when he kicked biking butt. Turns out he was able to do so thanks to his friend, EPO. At the time, my mum was bald as a bat, battling her own cancer. I needed to see what cancer looked like when you survived. This is personal for me, as it is for many. (My mum is fine now, by the way, having unleashed a can of cancer whoop ass of her own.)
So, deep breath, if we put our outrage and disappointment aside we can learn some lessons from how the Livestrong Foundation (who changed their name from the Lance Armstrong Foundation years ago—good call folks!) has managed the potential reputation tsunami brought on by one Mr. Armstrong. Here’s what they did right:
Get in front of the story
Lance “stepped down” from the board of the foundation in November. It was obvious his jig was up and the risk to the Foundation was imminent. The decision was announced prior to Lance’s public confession (which was really just a formality, don’t ya think?).
When you want to hide, respond and acknowledge
The foundation immediately came out with a statement expressing disappointment in Lance. “See! They think he did something wrong! Just like me!” This creates some space between the organization and the offending celebrity. It establishes a sense of separateness in the eyes of the public, even though their brands have always been closely intertwined.
Focus on your mission
The Livestrong Foundation website is all about the mission to kick cancer’s ass. Aside from some changes to the leadership pages, we’ve seen little sign of the media storm on their website. This sets the expectation that the organization is 100% committed to doing what they’ve been doing. Every quote hitting the media and interwebs from Livestrong since the news broke ends with a continued commitment to their mission.
There’s little question that the Livestrong Foundation will be in a better place to “fight to improve the lives of people affected by cancer” as the scandal dies down. The doping storm has been brewing for years and the foundation had plenty of opportunity to be prepared. For those of you with public figures representing your brand, here are a few resources that might help, should your Prince Armstrong, er, Charming turn into Snidely Whiplash.
Colorado Nonprofits Crisis Communication Plan
Crisis Communications Tips for Nonprofits
Kivi Leroux Miller’s Advice: Shorten the News Cycle